Q and A with Randy Barba

With master-planned condo communities becoming a more prevalent way of life in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, residents’ groups provide buyers not only a voice for their hopes, wishes and dreams for their communities, but also a vehicle to become engaged and involved in future development and planning. We spoke to the founder of one such organization in the fast-growing Etobicoke Waterfront area – Randy Barba, of the Humber Bay Shores Ratepayers and Residents Association


NextHome: How long have you been a resident of Humber Bay?

Randy Barba: We have been here for slightly less than four years after deciding to move out of the Entertainment District before our daughter came along. While we did not specifically focus on Humber Bay Shores, I couldn’t turn the area down after seeing the parks system and the view from our condo. It was love at first sight, quite literally. We live in a two-bedroom plus den unit in Marina Del Rey, one of the older builds on the west end of the Humber Bay Shores area. It’s been a fantastic place to live, although we are very fortunate as quality playgrounds and our daughter’s future school are a relatively short walk from our condo.

NH: What led you to start the residents’ group?

RB: Our initial goal in going public with the Humber Bay Shores Ratepayers and Residents Association was to comprehensively and regularly inform the community on any number of important topics – from planning issues to community updates and social events. We hoped to catalyze discussion and greater civic engagement from residents and ratepayers throughout the area. We also wanted to establish a democratic and open association that would allow for formal representation of members and their interests. We research and stay on top of important local issues and concerns.

NH: How has the response been among fellow residents?

RB: While the concept of the HBSRRA has been around for a while now, we are still pretty early in the establishment process. We have seen some very positive response from the community, and there is a great deal of appreciation for the information we gather and present. As the Association matures, we will look to expand our reach and focus on more social events and gatherings. While I personally focus on planning issues, there is no doubt that we can improve via a stronger social element and greater outreach.

NH: What communication or voice do you have among builders and developers in the area?

RB: We have not had to establish any relationships with existing builders. Leaving aside the Christie’s lands and the recently purchased 2256 Lake Shore Blvd. W. parcel (on the north side of Lake Shore, west of Park Lawn), Humber Bay Shores was planned and approved before we got started. We have established an open and ongoing relationship with First Capital, one of the new co-owners and managing partner of the Christie’s lands, and they have responded positively to inquiries and concerns. We will continue to push for the utmost community involvement in the planning of those lands as things progress, and they indicate a desire to do exactly that. We will most certainly attempt to reach out to Seylynn regarding the 2256 Lake Shore parcel in 2018, and we hope to establish a similar relationship.

NH: The future of the 27-acre Christie’s site is a subject of much discussion. No matter what the plan is, it sounds like it will take years to play out. What would you like to see happen with the site?

RB: There is no doubt that it will take years, and it will be important to keep the issue front and centre as the process plays out. There are a number of opinions and concerns on this topic percolating throughout the community.

Speaking for myself, a major objective is a complete transit hub, including a Park Lawn-Humber Bay Shores GO station, relocation of the TTC-Humber Loop onto the site, and bus and streetcar connections. Such a hub would serve much of the Etobicoke Lakeshore, including Wards 5 and 6, and it has the potential to remove a significant number of cars from our roadways. A well-planned and designed public realm is also extremely important, as is a functional roadway system with an additional arterial roadway between the Gardiner exit and Park Lawn.

While I am all for more restaurants and retail, another focus for me will be office space.

Local employment is extremely important, and the more quality jobs we can put on-site, the better. While I do not equate retail and service industry jobs with the full-time union jobs that were lost in the closing of the Christie’s plant, office space would provide quality opportunities for the people living in our community. I would also like to see space that would allow for family- and children-focused facilities – such as an indoor playground, daycare and a community centre or school. Cultural elements such as a theatre would also be fantastic, as we don’t have much in the area. Finally, I would like to see real parkland provisions instead of cash-in-lieu.

When it comes to residential, I tend to stay reserved in my opining. To put it simply: I hope they prioritize employment; the less density the better. If they are successful in rezoning lands for residential, I hope there will be a serious focus on the “missing middle.” If there are to be towers, I hope they prioritize the public realm with multi-use podiums, set-back buildings and quality architecture that is executed as designed. I would also like to see larger units and family-focused amenities – as well as improved consideration of shadow and wind impacts – versus what we have seen throughout much of the Humber Bay Shores block.

NH: A recent Globe and Mail article in which you were quoted, ended with you saying: “I really, really hope we can all come together and make the community, instead of breaking it.” What would that take, and what would that look like?

RB: I was highlighting the fact that our community already faces some challenges and deficiencies when it comes to issues such as transit, congestion and soft infrastructure. At the same time, we don’t have a lot of land left to build some of the public amenities we require. When I suggest that development of the site could break the community, I am referencing plans such as the original concept for the Christie’s land, for a large tower per acre; that kind of land use would suffocate the broader community beyond repair.

We ran some numbers using 2016 census data from our tract against building and unit counts throughout the area, and we estimate that there are roughly 14,000 people currently living here. At full occupancy, not including potential residential additions on the Christie’s site nor the 2256 Lake Shore parcel, the Humber Bay Shores and Mystic Pointe communities would house more than 26,000 people combined. Many people see those numbers as a major concern. Given the current stresses on public transit, roadways and congestion, local schools and parkland, can the area truly accommodate so many people? How many more can it handle? What is the breaking point?

Therefore, the encompassing issue is whether we want to create a true, complete community here in Humber Bay Shores, or are we happy with the area serving strictly as a highly-intensified residential space with minimal public amenities? The initial redevelopment of this area focused more on older demographics such as seniors, retirees and downsizers, but those demographics are rapidly changing and diversifying. Young adults aged 25 to 39 make up 40 per cent of the community, and 25 per cent of the community is made up of families with children. As a father with a young child, I have gained a great deal of appreciation for community and neighbourhood building that encourages long-term livability instead of transience or a single-demographic focus.

Complete communities allow people to live, work, play and raise families in their neighbourhoods to the greatest degree possible, versus having to commute or move out in search of those opportunities. When those needs cannot be met locally, an efficient and rapid transit system should be available to those commuting.

With 27 acres on the table, there is an opportunity to do something special here. I continue to hope that First Capital, the City and Humber Bay Shores & Mystic Pointe residents can come together and complete the community, instead of breaking it. I would like to see a public, transparent and accessible process that involves the entire community and takes their priorities and concerns into account. That process would then ideally be reflected in the planning and execution of the development. If the typical behind-the-scenes, lawyer-centric OMB process can be avoided – as First Capital has suggested – that would also be ideal.

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The future of the Etobicoke Waterfront

Photos: Randy Barba

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